Women's Wellness Series Is Retail Therapy really therapeutic

Is “Retail Therapy” really therapeutic?

Retail therapy, a rich women’s most accessible avenue to wellness. Patronisingly promoted to me by people who have never lived my life, and who can never comprehend how humiliating it is to be advised with ‘retail therapy’ when life’s most distressing issues arise.


“Just go for a shop, it’ll make you feel way better.”


The assumption that I can openly shop for materialistic items when I can barely afford groceries is ignorant. To expect me to go and buy clothes made in the sweatshops where my relatives are forced to work is disrespectful.


The western world has developed a coping mechanism that it markets to all, whilst disregarding the nuanced existence of BIPOC in and outside of their homelands.

For a woman who has no connection to the clothes on her back, browsing can be gratifying. But when the Western world is capitalising off the cheap labour of my family, when they profit from my traditional clothing being the latest fashion trend, when they sell it for 20 times the price of what they made it for, I have an issue with your approach to wellness.

It is important to mention that although retail therapy is not an actual coping mechanism recommended by professionals, the concept is still perpetuated through film, television, and social media.


It is not uncommon to see gorgeous influencers promoting their wellness practice of revamping their wardrobes because they can afford to do so. For the many people who are unable to afford a new wardrobe, every promotion can act as a sobering reminder of their own realities.


Financial distress is one of the greatest reasons why people are struggling mentally, and seeing how others are able to seek wellness through spending lavishly can feel like a slap in the face.

In an article written by Psychology today, retail therapy is said to encourage visualisation of a ‘new life’ for consumers, one that promotes assurance and stability through the purchase of items. Ultimately, it allows consumers to manifest how each item can bring about improvement in their lives.


For many immigrants who migrate to Western countries, and for families living in lower socio-economic communities, the ability to transition to a more secure lifestyle is simply inaccessible.


For those whose lives can support this means of consumption, they must recognise the privilege they possess in their ability to ‘purchase’ a better future, when many are unable to even purchase essentials.


Within immigrant and working-class families, many can only dream of a life where shopping relieves their complex issues. Having the means to even consider this method of wellness is a privilege beyond comprehension for some and is the ethos of the aristocrats.


The concept of retail therapy is worsened by its promotion of fast-fashion, an industry that exploits workers from third-world countries, whilst simultaneously contributing to the
acceleration of climate change.


For someone who has been raised in a Western society, I have been grateful to work in equitable environments, but I cannot say the same for my relatives in Vietnam.

H&M, a hugely successful company whose clothing tags read ‘Made in Vietnam’ have been exposed in the news numerous times for their exploitation of child labour.

Not only is it unethical to buy clothing priced at three months’ worth of pay for these children, but I acknowledge that I could have been one of these children myself, had I’d been raised in Vietnam.


It is even more dehumanising to have these children sew cheap, skimpy versions of their traditional clothing that they themselves can’t afford.


Our culture is not your costume.


It is these avenues of exploitation and appropriation where modern colonialism continues to pervade in our society. Encouraging a casual shop for ‘new cute clothes’ feeds into issues much larger than one can grasp.


One that is taking advantage of BIPOC all over the world. It is paramount that our society works towards decolonising this frivolous idea of wellness.


Retail therapy, something seemingly light-hearted remains a concept ignorant to the lives of those who suffer from immense financial distress, and the lives of the people being exploited. Something continually promoted so nonchalantly by influencers, bloggers and Youtubers has a direct effect on the mental wellbeing, livelihood, and depleting culture of millions around the world.


The steps that need to be taken in order for our society to grow and learn are getting educated about the implications of retail therapy.


It is every person’s responsibility to be more ethical than the society they grew up in.


This means working to acknowledge and abate the considerable wealth gap in our society. It means not supporting fast-fashion and their colonialist schemes of exploitation and appropriation.


It is recognising that the issues we face can be apprehended through means that don’t harm the lives of others. It is time we recognise that today; colonisation has still found a way to exist in our society, and sadly even in our wellness practices.


Oppression may prevail, but our fight has just begun.


          1 https://www.psychologytoday.com/nz/blog/the-why-behind-the-buy/201305/why-retail-therapy-works

2 https://wellmadeclothes.co.nz/articles/HMChildLabelUnsafeWorkerAccusations/


Celine Dam

Celine Dam (she/her) is a Vietnamese-Chinese writer and actor from Auckland, Aotearoa. Celine has written for print, online publications and zines and is grateful to inform others through her unique lens. Through both art-forms, she hopes to bring light to more Asian stories within the Western Media, and disrupt society’s ideas of normalcy.

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